Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Conflict Mining/Resources, DRC, Elections

1906-2006 – History still repeats itself.

Pambazuka News has an interview with Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja on “the strategic importance of the DRC. He asks us to imagine an economic and politically independent DRC and what that would mean to Sub Saharan Africa.

The forthcoming election means more to the international community, which is spending heavily on it and even sending in European Union forces to supplement MONUC to ensure that it is being held, than to the Congolese people. The major powers of the world and the international organizations under their control would like to legitimize their current client regime in Kinshasa so they can continue unfettered to extract all the resources they need from the Congo.

What is evident is that France and its allies, African as well as non- African, do not wish to see the DRC become a regional power in Central Africa, and thus constitute a threat to French hegemony and Western interests in the sub-region. A strong state in the Congo will not only threaten French control over the resource-rich countries in the sub-region, namely, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Moreover, the DRC has enough arable soil, rainfall, lakes and rivers to become the breadbasket of Africa, and enough hydroelectric power to light up the whole continent from the Cape to Cairo. “

The above quote could have been just as well written in 1906 as in 2006 – that much has not changed. I have just finished reading Patrice Lumumba (written as part of the PANAF Great Lives Series) It is worth reading, on the eve of the first DRC elections in 45 years providing us with a detailed historical analysis and explanation of the Congo from the time Leopold of Belgium took it as his personal property during the Berlin Conference in 1882 to the present day.

Leopold’s prize was a country rich in minerals copper, cobalt, silver, tungsten, diamonds, tin and uranium. Rubber, palm oil, coffee and cotton. The exploitation of these resources by King Leopold led to the dispossession of all land by the indigenous people of the Congo. Firstly land was given to the mining companies; secondly land was used for the creation of a system of national parks; thirdly huge tracks of farmland were given to white settlers. But ultimately it was the mining sector that took control of the country and remains in control today. Two regions, the Katanga and Kivu provinces most affected by the above distribution of land have also been the most affected by war and conflict throughout the history of Congo.

It is interesting to look at a some of the companies set up by Leopold at the beginning of the 20th century. Three companies were at the centre of his venture. Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Bas Congo (BCK – national railroad network for transportation of minerals); Societe Internationale Forestiere et Miniere due Congo (Forminiere- part of the De Beers empire and with close connections to the Anglo American Corporation founded by South African diamond magnate Ernest Oppenheimer); Union Miniere du Haut-Katanga which produced the most revenue for investors and the Congo government (Belgium). Leopold later invited American finance capital to invest in the country and granted them mineral rights as well as forestry and rubber production rights. Half the profits went to Leopold the rest to the multinationals. In total 27 million hectares of the country’s richest lands were given to international companies mainly in Kivu and Katanga Provinces. The Belgium government of Congo, investors, multinationals reaped huge profits at the expense of indigenous labour which was forced with the threat of imprisonment and beatings to grow crash crops such as cotton and rice.

Political independence had been offered by Belgium in 1960 in the hope that they and the multinationals would continue to have economic control of the country and operate without hindrance from a newly formed African government. It was this that was the main reason behind the assassination of Patrice Lumumba who won the first post independence election by a landslide. The mining companies and the Belgium government had given huge sums of money to various right wing candidates in the hope of ensuring at least one of them would succeed and win the election but the people chose Lumumbu. The Union Miniere gave millions to CONAKAT the party of MosieTshombe (Katanga for Katangans) and the Belgians backed the PNP – a pro Belgium and pro chiefs party. However it was ABAKO the party led by Joseph Kasavubu which, although tribalistic, was extremely popular with the masses that was the main rival to Lumumba’s nationalist MNC (which won by a landslide). What followed is a complex series of events, alliances and uprisings by various factions as everyone fought for control of the heart of the country and it’s resources. Only 12 days after the Republic of Congo was formed Tshombe proclaimed the independent state of Katanga. PANAF describes this as a “counter revolutionary revolt engineered by the Union Miniere and the big monopolies operating in the Congo” to protect their huge mining and other interests in the Katanga region. Then there was uranium. Union Mineire had made a secret deal with the US to supply them with the product.

The Katanga and Kivu regions which remain today the most volatile and have seen some of the worst violence and illegal mining continues. The BBC recently posted a story on the use of child labour in the mining of copper and cobalt in the Katanga Province. Congolese blog, Congo Voices also published a piece on child labour.

Imagine that you’re five years old and you have to work all day. Your job is deep inside a gold, copper or coltan mine where you are usually paid just $1 (or even less) a day to find some mineral you will never be able to keep. You’re often beaten by the middlemen. If you are a girl, you’re raped. This is everyday life for hundreds of Congolese children forced to work in mines because of poverty and war.

One positive change was reported in the UK’s Sunday Observer. One of the country’s most vicious militia known as the Mayi mayi operating in the Katanga region have begun to surrender and lay down their arms. As always in the DRC nothing is straightforward and violence comes in all colours and sizes. The UN are once again under investigation for the “destruction of civilian hamlets” during the campaign against the Mayi Mayi.

A question not dealt with in the interview with Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja is what will happen to all the other militias operating in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region? For example many of the Mayi Mayi are young boys who are either forcibly recruited or who join “voluntarily”. In a world of limited choices, conflict, violence, poverty and destroyed families; in these circumstances the militias provide an alternative to child labour in the mines or destitution. Lindsay Hilsum commenting on the media and the reporting of war in Index on Censorship, writes

“In countries like the DRC, war is a form of employment for young men who would otherwise hang around jobless in towns or live in poverty in the countryside. Peace is not necessarily the best option for those who live by plunder.

The DRC conflict has killed 3 million over a 10 year period not by bombing or use of high tech weapons but by gangs of militias and small armies from surrounding countries using cheap weapons – machetes and AK-47s– and also due to poverty and disease. Those militias that do surrender and disband will have to find some alternative to murder, rape and pillage. Hilsum looks at the aftermath of other violent conflicts such as in El Salvador and the Balkans and suggests the alternative for these militias is to turn to crime.

In El Salvador “Guerrillas and death squads have been replaced by urban criminal gangs that run drugs and kill for money“. In the Balkans, old enemies have joined together to form “cigarette smuggling and prostitution rings”. For the DRC militias there is a choice of illegal mining, smuggling and of course urban crime. How realistic is it to expect militias to disband and disappear and not to regroup in some other form after all of the death. I have to agree with Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s conclusion that Joseph Kabila will be elected and nothing will change either politicallly or economically and the violence will continue. The militias may transform themselves into criminal gangs but more than likely they will continue to operate as armed militias terrorizing the rural population.

Since the current transitional government has not fulfilled the requirements laid out in the Sun City/Pretoria accord for free and fair elections, the ritual of 30 July is likely to confirm Joseph Kabila as President, but it will not change the political situation of the country for the better. Violence will continue in the northeast, and corruption and incompetence will remain the most salient features of a government with an externally-driven agenda. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja

8 Comments

  1. In 2006, the UN simply exists. “What is evident is that France and its allies, African as well as non- African, do not wish to see the DRC become a regional power in Central Africa, and thus constitute a threat to French hegemony and Western interests in the sub-region. A strong state in the Congo will not only threaten French control over the resource-rich countries in the sub-region, namely, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Moreover, the DRC has enough arable soil, rainfall, lakes and rivers to become the breadbasket of Africa, and enough hydroelectric power to light up the whole continent from the Cape to Cairo. “ Someday, justice will come knocking.

  2. Comment by post author

    Sokari

    What I found from reading the Patrice Lumumba book was that things were exactly the same in 1960 except that Lumumba won the election and then they murdered him and went back to running the country as they had for the previous 70 years and now we find the same situtation is repeated. It is a tragic tragic story of the suffering brought by pure greed.

  3. I have a friend from the DRC, and its funny that a couple of months ago, he said exactly the same thing. He said the elections would be a charade, and that everything will be done to ensure that Kabila jnr is elected.

    When I asked him why, he reeled out all sorts of reasons. They ranged from foreign interests to regional selfishness. He was close to tears when he told me that his country didn’t have a future.

    The DRC is yet another sad story. When and how will all this change?

  4. I’ve just had the opportunity to visit often with a Congolese woman who was a young woman at the time of the end to Belgium’s colonization of the DR Congo (Zaire) in 1960 and she witnessed several events there following independence. She is not a political scientist working at the UNDP Oslo Governance Center like Mr. Nzongola-Ntalaja, but she has a pretty damn good feel for what really went down over the past 60 years or so in the Congo.

    She is returning to Kinshasa this month in time for the national elections. She has great hopes for the future of her country, and millions more like her have hope and will vote for the candidates that they feel will best serve their interests. Nobody in the Congo is expecting miracles in a place that has sunk so deep into the Abyss, just a few rays of sunlight will do for now.

    It is our job, those of us who live in the “free societies” that have contributed billions of dollars and millions of manhours of work to help rebuild this wartorn nation in the heart of Africa, to make sure that this grandmother from Kinshasa and people all across the DRC can realize what they have paid so dearly for in their own sweat and blood for centuries___ freedom and prosperity.

    The views and opinions of Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja on the modern history of Zaire are very interesting and I thank you for introducing him to us via this blog post. His accusations about the “evil motives” of Western political powers and multinational companies that are working with the transitional government of the DRC are rather typical and baseless. Much of the present-day illegal exploitation of the Congo’s natural resources as described in several international reports and investigations (UNSC 2002-03) is being carried out by Easterners and not Westerners, as you should well know by now Sokari. Follow the money trail….

    Lastly, I always find it interesting when personalities such as Mr. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja condemn the evil motives of Western nations like France and the U.S.A. while at the same time collecting a handsome paycheck from organizations like the UNDP Oslo Centre for Governance. How much of his diligent research points to evil empires in the East? Any of it?

    P.S. Great post on the DRC though, honest!

  5. Comment by post author

    Sokari

    BRE: On the last point re pay checks from UNDP etc I dont know about his research but UNDP is supposed to be a neutral organisation so I dont see how that clashes with his views about the West which he is perfectly entitled to have and you probably know that I agree with his analysis.

    Re the money trail – Western interests remain dominant in the DRC as they have done for the past 100 years – yes the Chinese are now joining the gang of thieves but they are new entrants in this game.

    Re: Congolese woman returning – It is good that there are people with hope as hope can make a positive difference to outcomes but Aba Boy’s friend (also not a political scientist) has a different perspective to hers and doesnt sound too hopeful – people view the situation differently. I think your argument re Nzongola-Ntalaja is one of political ideology and you know that on that you and I differ considerably. Also note I dont work for the UNDP and would never even if offered although it is extremely doubtful they would employ me:) In fact right now I have very little work from anyone.

    Kabila is most likely to be elected and for some this may prove beneficial but for most the situation will remain the same. Also it depends whereabouts in the DRC you are heading. Life in the major cities does not reflect the overall reality of life in the country. There is money to be made and I am sure the country will soon be full of investing hopefuls ready to make a quick buck. I was reading sometime ago an article in Investors weekly or something like that, that this was the best time for Western investors to invest in shares of mining multinationals etc operating in the country — not much help to the local people. How will this trickle down to the workers and peasants remains to be seen but as the oil wealth hasn’t trickled down to the villagers of the Niger Delta I don’t see why it should be any different in the DRC particularly given its history. And as I said what do people expect the militias to do. I don’t want to end on a negative note but I don’t see any good in not admitting the reality of the situation because without that you cannot even begin to make a start.

    PPS -BRE have you been watching the news lately?

  6. For Sokari in reverse order:

    Of course I have been watching and reading the world news but my mind and time has been corrupted by an overdose of World Cup 2006 fever and hype. This problem will come to an abrupt halt by this weekend.

    I am very anxious to learn more about Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja as it seems that he knows what he is talking about AND he is writing in English. There is a great archive of his work over at the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre site:
    http://www.undp.org/oslocentre/pub.htm

    The UNDP is an intergovernmental organization, not a “neutral” organization. It is no different than many other divisions and programs of the United Nations in that its funding is supplied by a handful of prosperous nations with a few nickels and dimes thrown in by the rest of the General Assembly member nations. Period.

    My criticism about the “evil Western powers” approach to describing the many problems faced by the people of the DRC today is that it ignores the role played by several governments and criminals from other nations that have been exploiting natural resources and victimizing the people of the DRC through everything from slave labor to supplying illegal arms and munitions to competing militias using child soldiers as cannon fodder to the shady front companies that handle the theft of these natural resouces and provide air and land “export services” for the spoils of the atrocities carried out against innocent civilians… and so forth and so on.

    The 2003-2004 UN Security Council reports for the UN Secretary General about Illegal Resource Exploitation in the DRC (along with other reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Intl., etc.) clearly exposes this “Demand and Supply Chain of Death” in the DRC, including the naming of names. Some of the most ravenous vultures feeding on the DRC over the past few decades come from Asia, former Soviet Union countries, and the glittering financial capitals of the Middle East. And let’s not leave the African countries and individuals out who are deeply involved in this rape of a nation, oh no. We will NEVER see the responsible government officials, business executives and their agents, and criminals from these countries prosecuted either for their crimes against humanity in the DRC or for the long list of violations against national and international laws. There will be absolutely no cooperation from these countries with the International Criminal Court or special tribunals or international law enforcement and judicial authorities setup to investigate and prosecute crimes carried out in the DRC. End of story.

    Re: Mama Emily (grandmother from Kinshasa) and her daughter, when they first came to Germany some weeks ago they felt like so many Congolese do, in that voting for candidates in the upcoming elections there is probably going to make NO difference in their everyday lives. I didn’t drive Mama Emily crazy by discussing politics in the DRC are asking a lot of questions about the civil wars or atrocities in the East. But the conversations that we did have together combined with what they experienced here in Germany and what I told them about the history and life today in the United States of America helped to convince them that NOT VOTING would certainly bring no change in their lives. They are both determined now to raise their voices at the ballot box in the Congo.

    I think this is what the politicians back in Washington D.C. call “winning the hearts and minds of people”. I sure as hell hope so, either way, I’m sticking with them all the way.

  7. Hey, maybe I am wrong (again)… about Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s take on things in the DR Congo.

    ZNET (a bastion of anti-American, anti-Western, liberal bias) has a great review of both Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s book “The Congo From Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History” and John F. Clark’s book “The African Stakes of the Congo War”.

    Riveting stuff and a Must Read for anyone interested in the history of civil war and humanitarian crisis in the DR Congo and neighboring countries of the African Great Lakes region. Here is the link to the ZNET article of March 05, 2004 titled “The Congo Conflict” by Justin Podur:
    http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=5094

    O.K., I’m gone for today…:-)

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